NFL

Chiefs take AFC’s No. 1 seed from Patriots … for now

Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks with Week 15’s games underway:

AFC

1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4), AFC West leaders: Winners of seven in a row, it seems most of their early season questions are behind them as they take control of their division following Thursday night’s overtime win against the Chargers. Now in the conference’s top spot, K.C. will give it back to the Patriots if New England wins Saturday. Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers, at Bengals, at Broncos

2. New England Patriots (9-4), AFC East leaders: Rested for the stretch run, they next hit the road for a game in Indianapolis against another surging squad. Pats’ 7-1 record against AFC teams looms as pivotal tiebreaker. Remaining schedule: at Colts, vs. Bills, vs. Jaguars, at Dolphins

Bill Belichick’s Patriots lost the AFC’s No. 1 seed Thursday night amid Kansas City’s win. But New England can regain the top spot Saturday.

3. Tennessee Titans (9-4), AFC South leaders: They’re very quietly chugging along, effectively owning a 2½-game lead in the division courtesy of their season sweep of the Colts, amid an NFL Network report that injured RB Derrick Henry is poised to return for postseason – if not sooner. Remaining schedule: at Steelers, vs. 49ers, vs. Dolphins, at Texans

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4. Baltimore Ravens (8-5), AFC North leaders: Just two weeks ago, they sat atop the conference standings. Who knows where they’ll be two weeks from now, especially if QB Lamar Jackson (ankle) has to miss time as the Ravens enter a brutal finishing stretch. Remaining schedule: vs. Packers, at Bengals, vs. Rams, vs. Steelers

5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6), wild card No. 1: Crushing loss Thursday, when they could have displaced Kansas City atop AFC West. Now Bolts are in danger of losing ground in wild-card race depending how the rest of Week 15 unfolds. Remaining schedule: at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders

6. Indianapolis Colts (7-6), wild card No. 2: Pretty good bye week when you jump into the projected playoff field without lifting a finger. They’re as hot as just about anybody after winning six of eight, and a 6-3 record in conference games serves them well in tiebreaker department. That will be put to the test with New England headed to town. Remaining schedule: vs. Patriots, at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars

7. Buffalo Bills (7-6), wild card No. 3: They’re clinging to the final playoff berth despite losing three of four. But if they win out – a reasonable possibility given their schedule –retaining the AFC East crown is still in play. Remaining schedule: vs. Panthers, at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets

8. Cleveland Browns (7-6), out of playoff field: Huge win over Baltimore on Sunday, but a 4-5 record in conference play – currently the decisive tiebreaker – is hurting them … along with rash of COVID-19 cases. Remaining schedule: vs. Raiders, at Packers, at Steelers, vs. Bengals

9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), out of playoff field: Had they beaten the 49ers in overtime Sunday, the Bengals would’ve resided atop AFC North. Instead, Cincy finds itself on outside looking in. Now they must get right at Denver’s altitude. Remaining schedule: at Broncos, vs. Ravens, vs. Chiefs, at Browns

10. Denver Broncos (7-6), out of playoff field: They’ve won four of six, run the ball very effectively and play solid defense. Not the kind of team anyone wants to see in mid-January. Remaining schedule: vs. Bengals, at Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Chiefs

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1), out of playoff field: Last week’s loss at Minnesota dropped them from eighth place. Now they’re set to face three first-place teams over the next four weeks. Remaining schedule: vs. Titans, at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens

12. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7), out of playoff field: They’ve lost five of six – three of those defeats by at least 19 points – and are watching more teams climb over them. Remaining schedule: at Browns, vs. Broncos, at Colts, vs. Chargers

13. Miami Dolphins (6-7), out of playoff field: They’ll return to action in Week 15 just a game out of the final playoff spot. Remaining schedule: vs. Jets, at Saints, at Titans, vs. Patriots

NFC

1. Green Bay Packers (10-3), NFC North leaders: Overcame slow start to complete sweep of the hated Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Now Pack has inside track for consecutive No. 1 seeds thanks to Arizona’s loss Monday. Remaining schedule: at Ravens, vs. Browns, vs. Vikings, at Lions

WR DeAndre Hopkins and the Cardinals lost a key game to the Rams on Monday night.

WR DeAndre Hopkins and the Cardinals lost a key game to the Rams on Monday night.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3), NFC South leaders: They escaped Buffalo’s second-half charge but couldn’t make up ground on Pack due to Tampa’s inferior conference record (6-3). However, the Cardinals’ defeat also benefited Bucs, who have a better mark in common games. Remaining schedule: vs. Saints, at Panthers, at Jets, vs. Panthers

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-3), NFC West leaders: They fumbled a chance to clinch a playoff spot, coughed up the conference’s top seed and now only have a one-game lead in the division. At least Week 15 allows them to hit the road, where Cards are unbeaten in 2021. Remaining schedule: at Lions, vs. Colts, at Cowboys, vs. Seahawks

4. Dallas Cowboys (9-4), NFC East leaders: Three-game division lead with four weeks to go. The Cowboys also get one more crack at all of their NFC East rivals after sweeping to a 3-0 record against them so far. Remaining schedule: at Giants, vs. Washington, vs. Cardinals, at Eagles

5. Los Angeles Rams (9-4), wild card No. 1: Big win in desert separated them from other wild-card aspirants while putting LA back in mix for NFC West crown. Appears their new parts finally jelling … at least those not on COVID list. Remaining schedule: vs. Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens, vs. 49ers

6. San Francisco 49ers (7-6), wild card No. 2: Massive win in overtime at Cincinnati greatly increased their chances of being the third NFC West team invited to the party – and only one game left in their divisional gauntlet. Remaining schedule: vs. Falcons, at Titans, vs. Texans, at Rams

7. Washington Football Team (6-7), wild card No. 3: The good news? Despite end of their four-game winning streak, they remain inside projected playoff field. The bad news? Four other teams share the WFT’s 6-7 record, so the margin for error is officially zero. Washington’s 5-3 conference record currently distinguishes it from the pursuing pack. Remaining schedule: at Eagles, at Cowboys, vs. Eagles, at Giants

8. Minnesota Vikings (6-7), out of playoff field: They persevered to beat Steelers in Week 14 … and would currently be conference’s seventh seed if not for Week 13 loss at previously winless Detroit. But hope is alive. Remaining schedule: at Bears, vs. Rams, at Packers, vs. Bears

9. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7), out of playoff field: QB Jalen Hurts is set to return for four-game sprint against NFC East competition. Three more wins should get Philly, which is behind Vikes due to record in common games, into the field. Remaining schedule: vs. Washington, vs. Giants, at Washington, vs. Cowboys

10. Atlanta Falcons (6-7), out of playoff field: They’ve been outscored by 108 points this season. But they’ve largely beaten the teams they’re supposed to, including wins over the division rival Saints and Carolina Panthers, hence Atlanta’s continued playoff viability. Remaining schedule: at 49ers, vs. Lions, at Bills, vs. Saints

11. New Orleans Saints (6-7), out of playoff field: The perfect remedy to end a five-game losing streak? The New York Jets. The Saints may technically be looking up at a lot of teams, but all that’s between them and the final wild-card spot is the tiebreaker formula. Remaining schedule: at Buccaneers, vs. Dolphins, vs. Panthers, at Falcons

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL playoff picture at start of Week 15 2021: Chiefs now No. 1 in AFC




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